from the Order Entered January 16, 2019 In the Court of
Common Pleas of Dauphin County Domestic Relations at No(s):
0267 DR 2018
BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., SHOGAN, J., and PELLEGRINI, J.
trial court denied S.R.G.'s ("Grandmother")
petition seeking child support payments from D.D.G.
("Grandfather") for their daughter's child.
Grandmother argues the trial court erred in denying her
petition as Grandfather has an extensive history of
relentlessly litigating his claims for custody of the child.
While the trial court found that Grandmother made a
compelling argument, it ultimately concluded that the parties
did not aggressively assert their custody claims against
child's parents; rather, the court concluded that the
parties "stepped into the parental void" caused by
child's parents. After careful review, we can find no
error of law in the trial court's conclusions, and
to their pending divorce, the parties were granted legal and
primary physical custody of the child through an agreed
custody order. The parties' daughter, the child's
mother, has a history of mental illness and the parties agree
that she is not capable of raising the child. The parties
also agree that the child's father has never been
involved in child's life, and is currently serving a
lengthy prison sentence. However, neither of the child's
parents' parental rights have ever been terminated or
Grandfather filed for divorce from Grandmother, and
Grandmother relocated to Florida, the parties agreed to
numerous modifications to their custody agreement.
Ultimately, the agreement provided for a split schedule of
primary physical custody whereby Grandfather exercises
partial physical custody of child during summers, spring
break, and a two-week period during the fall. Grandmother
exercises primary physical custody at all other times.
Grandmother had sole legal custody of the child, however
grandparents later entered an agreed order providing they
would share legal custody, with Grandfather having sole
decision-making authority on health and education issues
(though not religion) during his period of physical custody
noted, Grandmother subsequently sought child support payments
from Grandfather. Whether a third party may be held
liable for child support to another third party is a question
of law, which we review de novo. See A.S. v.
I.S., 130 A.3d 763, 768 (Pa. 2015).
law is clear that parents of a child have a duty to support
that child. See 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4321(2). On the
other hand, there is no explicit statutory requirement that a
grandparent has any duty to support a grandchild. See
claims Grandfather has a legal duty to pay child support to
her for their grandchild since grandparents stand in loco
parentis to the child. Grandmother asserts grandparents
have taken proactive steps to establish themselves as the
legal parents of the child and that mother and father have
never, and never will, assume parental duties.
we have previously held that in loco parentis status
alone is insufficient to create a support obligation for a
nonparent. See Commonwealth ex rel. McNutt v.
McNutt, 496 A.2d 816, 817 (Pa. Super. 1985).
If we were to hold that a stepparent acting in loco parentis
would be held liable for support even after the dissolution
of the marriage then all persons who gratuitously assume
parental duties for a time could be held legally responsible
for a child's support. It is not uncommon for a
grandparent, an aunt or uncle or an older sibling to assume
responsibilities for parenting when the natural parents are
absent. These acts of generosity should not be discouraged by
creating a law which would require anyone who begins such a
relationship to continue financial support until the child is
eighteen years old.
this precedent, Grandmother cites to the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court decision in A.S., for the proposition that a
duty of child support can arise where a nonparent has taken
"affirmative steps to act as a legal parent so that he
or she must be treated as a legal parent." See
Appellant's Brief, at 12.
A.S., the child's stepfather "haled a fit
[biological mother] into court, repeatedly litigating to
achieve the same legal and physical custodial rights as would
naturally accrue to any biological parent."
Id., at 770. The court described the case as not a
typical one "of a stepparent who has grown to love his
stepchildren and wants to maintain a post-separation
relationship with them." Id. Instead, the
stepfather "ha[d] litigated and obtained full legal and
physical custody rights, and ha[d] also ...